Running for a good cause: Girls' lives

(Courtesy Of Girls Gotta Run Foundation Girls Gotta Run Helps Girls On Three Teams In Ethiopia, Inlcuding Team Tesfa, Which Started With Four Athletes And Now Has 20)
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By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 25, 2010; 10:29 PM

Before, when she pumped her legs and pushed hard up that incline on 15th Street NW toward Meridian Hill Park, Etayenesh Asfaw was running for herself.

For a better time, for a clear mind, for her own health.

"Running is a luxury for me," said Asfaw, 29, an environmental policy analyst from Rockville who will compete Sunday in the Marine Corps Marathon 10K race.

She does a three-mile loop downtown in the morning before work. On weekends, she does the Mount Vernon Trail. Nice and green, a lovely run.

It is nothing like the running that Ethiopian girls do back in her home country.

There the girls are running from marriage at 12 years old, from having babies before their bodies are ready, from a life of servitude that eclipses any chance of higher education.

If a girl can become a strong runner and get on a professional team, she has a chance to go to school, earn money and wait until she is a grown woman to choose the man she marries.

Asfaw knew it was bad for the girls there. She left Africa in 1996, at 14, but returned after grad school to visit family in the villages. Everything looked so different from the childhood pictures she'd been carrying around in her head.

She wanted to help those girls back home, the girls who run barefoot on the uneven, Ethiopian roads, whose only goal is to get enough money for food and sneakers - "calorie money" they call it - and win the attention of Addis Ababa coaches.

The woman who helped Asfaw do that is a very unlikely patron of athletes.

Patricia Ortman is a retired women's studies professor who lives in Northwest Washington and paints lovely scenes of children with kittens and pansies and colorful abstracts.

Ortman has never been to Ethiopia.

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